Vacation Alteration| October 6, 2022
The words Yom Tov were sparking an idea. “In fact, I think I have the most amazing idea. Wait till you hear it”
Sarah: We’re treating you to a gift. Why do you insist on being a martyr?
Ruti: If you wanted to give us a present, why couldn’t you give us something we’d appreciate?
When my phone rings early Friday morning, I know it’s Dovi and Ruti calling. They’re still in Eretz Yisrael, six years and counting, but we usually manage to speak before Shabbos, despite the time difference. Usually Dovi says a quick hello, then each of the kids come on the line, and Ruti takes the phone to finish up.
“That was adorable, kein ayin hara,” I told my daughter-in-law one week, after two-year-old Leeba sang us some song in convoluted Hebrew that I couldn’t hope to understand, but applauded heartily anyway. “All of them. They must be getting so big. It’s how long since we saw you last?”
“We came for Succos, it was just before Miri’s chasunah,” Ruti said.
“Oh, yes, that’s right. Baruch Hashem for simchahs, right?” I laughed.
Dovi and Ruti were long past the newlywed fly-back-for-Yom-Tov stage. With four little ones, it wasn’t exactly cheap, either.
“Tell me about it.” Ruti sounded distracted. “Just a minute — Chaim, no! Mommy made you your own sandwich. Leave Nechama alone, please.” There was a clatter, and a wail. “Sorry, Ma. I’m going to have to go in a minute, before they demolish the kitchen… no, Chaim, the kugel isn’t ready yet. Soon it will come out of the oven, then it has to cool down, and then I can give you a piece.”
“We’ll talk another time,” I told Ruti hurriedly. “I know you’re busy, it’s Friday afternoon.”
I hung up the phone in my quiet, spotless kitchen and thought about how hard my son and daughter-in-law worked to make it there in Eretz Yisrael. My other kids had gone for a year, maximum two, then come back and settled nearby. I can’t say I enjoy having Dovi’s branch of the family so far away — it’s hard not to have the grandchildren close by, to miss so many milestones, but my husband Shalom and I are definitely proud of them.
“I wish we could help Dovi out more,” I told Shalom over breakfast. “They have four kids, a tiny apartment. He’s learning full-time, she’s working crazy hours, it can’t be easy…”
Shalom sipped his coffee, looked at me sideways, and tipped in another generous couple of spoons of sugar. Ugh, so he’d noticed I was trying to cut down on our sugar intake. Oh, well.
“Look, we did help them out for a few years, and now we can’t do it,” he said reasonably.
He was right. We were typical middle-class, we weren’t exactly struggling for money, but there wasn’t really enough to send regular support to Dovi’s family. We’d made three more shidduchim since Dovi got married, each one with hefty obligations of its own, and we couldn’t afford to take on another monthly commitment.
“Want us to send them something as a one-off?” Shalom asked. “Maybe for Yom Tov? I’m sure that would help.”
It probably would help. It would probably also get swallowed up within a week. Besides…
“I’m not sure,” I said slowly. “They might feel we’re pitying them, or that we think they can’t manage on their own… we need to think of a way to do it. Maybe we can treat them to something special, make it clear that it’s a gift because we’re proud of them.” The words Yom Tov were sparking an idea. “In fact, I think I have the most amazing idea. Wait till you hear it.”
what?” Dovi sounded like he couldn’t believe his ears.
“A hotel. For Succos,” I repeated, as naturally as I could. “Abba and I were discussing it, we were hoping to have you spend Yom Tov with us, we started looking into tickets… but then we figured, maybe we should fly in to you, it’s easier than you traveling with all the little ones. And of course, we didn’t want to put extra work on Ruti, to host or anything, so we started looking into hotels, and…”
“But aren’t these hotel programs a fortune?” Dovi asked. There was something like wonder in his voice.
They were. We were stretching ourselves for this. It was a lot more than flying them all back for the month. But I wasn’t going to tell him that. “Abba and I have decided we can do this, and we want to treat you and Ruti. You both work so hard, you deserve it. And of course, we’ll get to spend time with you and the children!”
“Wow.” He sounded slightly overwhelmed. “Um, Ruti’s working now. Do you want me to tell her myself when she’s done, or should I ask her to call you…?”
“You can tell her,” I said generously.
Of course, Ruti would call us right away when she heard. I pictured my daughter-in-law’s face when she heard — she was going to be so excited. It was a shame we couldn’t be there to see it.
was surprised when we didn’t hear back from Ruti right away. I knew she worked late hours, but still, I’d assumed she’d call that night — for a change, the seven-hour time difference would work in our favor.
But the clock ticked past 5 p.m. — midnight in Israel — then 6, and when it hit 8, I decided she wasn’t calling.
Maybe she was just too tired?
The next morning, my phone rang. Dovi & Ruti Israel. I picked up eagerly.
“Hi, Ma. Dovi told me… about the hotel?” Ruti sounded a little unlike herself. “Um, thanks so much. We were really — we couldn’t believe it. It’s… a really big surprise.”
All the stammering was really unlike her. They must be totally overwhelmed. I felt a pang; when was the last time anyone had treated the two of them to something special?
“Of course,” I said warmly, hoping she could hear the sincerity in my voice. “Abba and I are really proud of how you and Dovi work so hard there in Eretz Yisrael, how you’re sticking it out so he can learn. This is just a little something, you know?”
A little something that cost a whole lot of money, I didn’t add. But I wanted her to feel good, to feel that this was a gift she deserved, not charity.
“Right. Dovi told me. We — we appreciate it.”
She sounded stilted, but maybe she was just unsure how to react? Some people had a hard time accepting gifts. But she was going to love it, this would be the vacation of the year for them. Maybe the vacation of the decade.
“I’m going to send you all the information about the hotel and the program,” I told her. “There’s babysitting on site, activities for the kids, you’re gonna see, they’ll love it.”
Ruti perked up a little, which is just what I’d hoped. “Oooh, thank you, Ma. Yes, I’d love to see it all.”
ummer passed, and as the big day drew closer, I threw myself into shopping and packing. Apparently Succos in Eretz Yisrael was totally still summer weather, so I got busy shopping the sales — a fancy hotel meant I needed some new clothing, or so everyone insisted.
And then there were presents for the grandchildren: five-year-old Chaim, four-year-old Nechama, two-year-old Leeba, and baby Yisrael. I spent time choosing gifts that I thought they’d like, running my choices by my daughter Avigail, who had kids of similar ages.
“Ma, it’s okay,” she said. “You’re taking them to a hotel already, you don’t need to work so hard gift-shopping…”
“No legitimate Bubby turns up to visit the eineklach without presents,” I retorted.
She laughed. The other kids had been surprised by our decision to spend Succos in Eretz Yisrael, and the splurge on the hotel, but they’d understood. Everyone knew how hard Ruti worked, and that the Israeli contingent of the family missed our annual retreats to the country, the barbecues and Chanukah parties, and the occasional night out at a restaurant in honor of a special occasion.
“You’re going to have a great time, Ma,” Avigail said.
“I know! I’m so excited, I feel like a kid again.”
I hung up the phone and beamed at the shopping bags spread across the floor. This was going to be fun!
And of course, a vacation to remember for Dovi and Ruti.
We flew between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — I figured we may as well recover from the jet lag before Yom Tov. For the first few days, Dovi had arranged for us to stay with a neighbor of theirs who was away for the month. Of course, we went to see Dovi and Ruti and the kids right away.
“I can’t believe we’ve never actually visited your apartment,” I said, as Dovi helped us schlep the suitcases inside and up three grimy flights of stairs. “No elevator?”
“Nope,” he said cheerfully. “Good exercise, though.”
I looked at Shalom. He gave a little shrug and hefted another suitcase up a flight of steps. I hadn’t expected luxury, but still… third floor, no elevator? How did Ruti manage the double stroller?
Dovi stopped outside a door covered in banners. Welcome, Bubby and Zeidy!
“Oh, how sweet!” I said.
The door burst open, and the kids piled out excitedly, Ruti and the baby behind them. “Shalom aleichem, welcome…”
We sat down in the kitchen to have a drink, and I looked around as discreetly as I could. Everything was clean, of course — Ruti was a great balabusta. But the cabinets were so… old, and shabby. Some of the hinges were falling off. The counters were a little swollen at the edges and the faucets looked like they were eighty years old.
Ruti served slices of cake on real china plates.
“Now this is elegant,” I said, motioning at the tableware. “You know you can use disposables, really, I’m not that sort of mother-in-law…”
Ruti laughed obligingly. “Oh, we don’t buy disposables anymore,” she said. “The prices went up a while back and we just couldn’t justify the expense.”
I’d known that Dovi and Ruti didn’t have it easy financially, but somehow, seeing it with my own eyes was a shock. Their apartment was a decent size — for a couple with a baby, maybe two. But here they were with four children, the three older ones squeezed in a small bedroom that was really just a closed-off porch, one bathroom, the dining room, with its rickety furnishings and peeling paint…
Dovi and Ruti didn’t seem bothered by it, though. They happily showed us around the small apartment, pointing out the toys that I’d sent a few months back with a friend who was traveling to Israel.
“Oh, and look what I found this morning,” Ruti said happily, opening up a shopping bag. “A neighbor of mine was giving away some old clothes, and she had a Shabbos dress exactly Nechama’s size, I’m so happy. One less thing to buy for Yom Tov.”
The dress was pretty, if a little worn. I tried to smile.
“That’s… great.” Were things really so difficult that she needed second-hand clothing for the kids for Yom Tov?
Eventually, we took our bags over to the neighbor’s apartment, hoping to sleep off the jet lag.
“Now I’m even more happy that we decided to do this,” I told Shalom, once we were safely behind closed doors. “They really need a treat. Did you see how careful they are with every penny? I’m so happy they’re going to get the vacation they deserve.”
was a hectic few days until we finally left for the hotel. I was looking forward to seeing Ruti relax — she’d been so harried and tense between the packing and her job and the kids home. We’d barely gotten to spend any time with them. But that’s what Yom Tov was for. Once we arrived, she’d have no housework to take care of, no cooking… this would be a real break for both of them.
Our rooms were on the same floor, but different ends of it. Dovi and Ruti and the kids disappeared into theirs — we’d booked them a suite, with an adjoining room to their own for the three older kids — and we went to unpack as well. After half an hour, which seemed ample time, I knocked on their door.
Dovi opened it, holding a crying Yisrael. “Hi, Ma.”
I stroked the baby’s cheek. “Aw, what’s wrong, cutie pie?”
Dovi shifted the baby to the other shoulder. “He’s tired. Ruti’s going to put him to sleep soon…”
“There’s a whole buffet lunch going on now, downstairs. Want to come with the kids? It’s supposed to be amazing, super fancy, tons of food…”
Ruti came to the door. “Dovi, I want to…” She trailed off when she saw me. “Oh — hi, Ma. Um, give us a minute?”
Dovi shot me an apologetic look and disappeared inside the room. I waited one minute, then two, wondering if I should just go downstairs. What on earth was going on?
Finally, Dovi came out again, Chaim and Nechama bouncing excitedly behind him. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. Ruti’s going to put the baby for a nap, and hopefully also Leeba, so she won’t be too cranky tonight.”
The buffet really was amazing. Hot dishes, cold dishes, sushi platters, a meat-carving station, fruit and vegetable salads, and endless arrays of cakes, cookies, and other miniature desserts.
“If this is what they serve on Erev Yom Tov, what about Yom Tov itself?” I said in wonder.
The kids danced around, helping themselves to chocolate eclairs, and Dovi bit into a steak with a sigh.
“Oh, this is good, Ma. I haven’t eaten all day.”
“What a shame Ruti’s missing this,” I said. “Why don’t you bring her up some food? You can make a plate, I’ll watch the kids…”
Dovi looked at his children uncertainly. Chaim was shaking a soda bottle vigorously. “Uh-oh, let me rescue that,” he said.
He poured each of them a drink, and I figured it was time for him to have a break too. “Go to Ruti,” I told him. “I’ll take care of them.”
“Are you sure, Ma?”
He looked at Chaim and Nechama. They were sitting quietly now, swinging their legs, happily munching on rainbow cake.
“They’ll be fine,” I said.
Of course, as soon as he left, balancing two heaping plates for Ruti, Chaim and Nechama started fighting again.
“Come, kids, who wants some yummy schnitzel?” I offered.
“Cake!” Nechama declared.
“Yeah! Chocolate!” Chaim added, and the two made a beeline for the desserts table again.
Oh, well. At least I’d tried. This was a new environment. I supposed they had to get used to it.
I didn’t get to see Ruti until candlelighting. She looked harried.
“Whoa, that was a marathon, all the baths, showers…” She shook her head.
I felt bad. She was supposed to have a break!
“Relax, this is vacation,” I said. “You’ll see, the kids will settle down and it’s going to be a real luxury Yom Tov.”
She gave a tight smile and reached for the matches. Something tugged at me — we were doing all this for her, for them. Why did she look like she’d rather be anywhere else?
thought Yom Tov would be better, but it only got worse.
The hotel succah was huge and beautiful, and we had a family table of our own. Shalom made Kiddush and I enjoyed the luxury of just sitting with the family, not having to worry about the serving or the clean-up. The food was a delight to the eye and the palate — fancy fish dishes, salads, sides, steaming cream of chicken soup, and a main course that made everything else look simple in comparison.
“And their desserts are supposed to be something out of this world,” I commented, as the waiters began to clear the main course, to the background chorus of the choir.
Ruti said something to Dovi. She hadn’t been very sociable throughout the meal; too busy with what the kids were doing and eating.
“You sure? But the dessert…” Dovi bit his lip as Leeba started to cry, and the baby joined in. “I guess not.” He turned to me. “We’re going to have to bentsh now. It’s getting too late for the little ones, they’re not used to these late nights…”
“You can’t wait another few minutes?” I was disappointed. “They should be bringing out dessert any minute…”
“Dessert! Dessert!” Chaim and Nechama caught the magic word, and began jumping up and down. “Not going to bed. We want dessert!”
“Oh, no,” Ruti groaned. “Kids—”
“Maybe just let them stay up, I’ll wait with them?” Dovi said hurriedly.
Ruti threw up her hands. “They’re so overtired already, but I guess we don’t have a choice, do we?” She said a quick bentshing, and then disappeared with the double stroller. “Just bring them as soon as you can, okay? I don’t want them acting crazy tomorrow because of the late night…”
Personally, I felt like the stress about bedtimes and routines was a little… much. But I was going to be a good shvigger and not say anything. Instead, I carefully prepared a plate of desserts to send up to Ruti later, and hoped that a good night’s sleep would do everyone good.
Ruti and the kids were up bright and early. I met them in the lobby the next morning on my way to shul — the hotel was hosting a world-famous chazzan and I was looking forward.
Ruti smiled tiredly in response to my greeting. “Hi, Ma.”
She whisked around to rescue Leeba before she fell into some ornamental pool, and then turned to stick the baby’s pacifier back in his mouth, calling to Chaim to stop climbing on the delicate sofas in the corner of the lobby.
Some other kids ran by, all headed in the same direction, and I couldn’t help but notice how they were dressed; my grandchildren looked kind of… shabby in comparison. Were they all wearing secondhand clothing? I know clothing isn’t cheap, but many people struggle for money and still make it work, with savvy shopping, sales, whatnot. Of course I wouldn’t say anything, but deep inside I felt embarrassed of my grandchildren. I wished Ruti had made a bit more of an effort to dress the kids appropriately.
I looked back at Ruti, her body language screaming misery, and felt myself starting to get irritated. Why did she look like she was suffering when we were treating her to Yom Tov in a hotel?
“Isn’t there a day camp program starting this morning?” I asked her.
“I think so… maybe. I’ll see if the kids agree to go.”
“Why shouldn’t they? It’ll be so much fun for them, so many kids their age.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Ruti said vaguely.
I let it go.
We met up again at the kiddush, this time together with Shalom and Dovi as well.
“Oh, finally, I’m so happy you’re here,” Ruti told Dovi, handing him the baby. “Listen, I need to run upstairs and change Leeba’s diaper. Can you get hold of some milk? Nechama won’t eat anything here, I promised her cereal, but I can’t find a waiter to get me some milk from the kitchen…”
Cereal and milk? Had she even looked at the spread here?
“Nechama really won’t eat any of the food at the kiddush?” I asked, before I could stop myself.
Ruti pursed her lips. “She’ll eat the chocolate cake, that’s all. It’s not healthy. And she’s a very picky eater, she won’t touch anything too fancy. And no vegetables.”
The seudah was another round of stress: The baby was tired. The food was no good for the kids; they’d eaten too much junk at the kiddush, and they’d be hungry for something real way before suppertime; would the waiters put something aside? But not the chicken; Chaim won’t touch that, and the vegetable salads, forget it…
I was getting a headache just hearing it. At least after the meal, the kids could go to the special program — there was some clown or magician or something coming to the day camp — and Dovi and Ruti could go rest, or join one of the workshops or speeches.
“I’m excited about that rebbetzin who’s speaking later this afternoon,” I told Ruti, after the meal was (finally) over. “Are you coming?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, Ma, I have to watch the kids… but you go, enjoy it.”
I gritted my teeth again. We were paying a fortune for a hotel with babysitting services. Why was she doing this?
ater that afternoon, watching Dovi trying to entertain the kids in the lobby while Ruti fed the baby upstairs, I spoke to him. “You know there’s a day camp, right?”
His eyes darted to one side. “Yeah… I think Ruti tried it this morning. It didn’t work out so well, apparently.”
“Really?” What did that even mean? “But they’re so professional. It’s a gorgeous playroom… I saw the pictures…”
Ruti swept in just then, handed Yisrael to Dovi, and whispered something to him. Chaim and Nechama started pulling on her skirt, whining for Fruity Pebbles. Leeba, feeling ignored, started to cry as well.
I looked around the lobby. There were so many women lounging around, all sitting and relaxing… Everyone else seemed to be taking advantage of the day camp. Why did Ruti insist on being a martyr and making this a miserable experience for everyone?
If I could tell Ruti one thing, it would be: We’re stretching ourselves to treat you to something really special. Why can’t you just relax and enjoy it with us instead of making it hard for yourself?
Succos in a hotel?
I looked at Dovi like he’d fallen from the moon. What on earth? Where did that idea even come from?
“But that’s… crazy! It’s so expensive! Why are your parents doing this? They won the lottery or something?”
He shrugged. “They said they wanted to treat you. And I totally agree that you work way too hard and deserve a break.”
He winked. I appreciated the sentiment, but I couldn’t calm down.
“For that money, I could get a new sheitel. We could fix the leak. Or maybe they should cover our rent for a couple of months instead…”
Dovi shrugged again, spreading out his hands helplessly.
“Look, they didn’t ask us how to use the money, so we may as well enjoy it, no? I mean, come on, a luxury hotel, when are we ever gonna get to go to one of those? And, imagine, an entire Yom Tov without having to cook, clean, or serve. I could get used to relaxing like that.”
“With four little kids? Honestly, I can’t see us enjoying it very much.” I thought about our lively crew, let loose in some fancy hotel. “We’ll be chasing Leeba everywhere, and Nechama won’t eat a thing… the kids will be fighting and the baby will be cranky and off schedule…”
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Dovi said. He sounded disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm. “Besides”—his voice hardened slightly—“it’s a gift from my parents… we need to show them we appreciate it.”
His parents. Oh, no, now I was going to have to call to thank them, and gush over what a sweet present and how thoughtful it was of them to offer it when the mere thought of spending Yom Tov on show was making me dizzy.
“Tomorrow. I’ll call them tomorrow,” I said wearily, switching off the computer before my boss could send over yet another urgent task and expect me to clock in the extra hours to get it done.
Don’t get me wrong. My mother-in-law is great. Really nice. Just… clueless.
“Ruti! How are you?” she gushed.
I struggled to match her upbeat tone. “Hi, Ma. Dovi told me… about the hotel?” I swallowed. “I wanted to say… thanks so, so much. It’s such a surprise, wow.”
A surprise. That was the right word.
“Of course!” Dovi’s mother said. “It’s just something small so you know how proud we are of what you’re both doing. You work so hard that he can stay in learning and it’s really something special.”
Well. It was nice to be appreciated, but couldn’t she show it… differently? I looked around our apartment; we desperately needed to replace the sofa, it was literally torn in more places than it was whole. And I hadn’t bought a sheitel since we got married. And the kids could do with new shoes, but I was trying to hold them off until the end of the season…
“I’m going to send you all the brochures and stuff, the program,” my mother-in-law said happily. “There’s babysitting on site so you’ll really be able to relax.”
“Thanks so much, Ma.” Activities for the kids, that would definitely be a help. “Looking forward,” I forced myself to add.
We spoke for a few more minutes, until the effort to pretend everything was hunky-dory and we were hyper at the prospect of a hotel Yom Tov got too much for me.
I made some excuse, hung up the phone, and sighed. I had a feeling this was only the beginning.
He looked up from his sefer. “Mmm?”
I sat down and began folding a never-ending pile of laundry. “What am I going to do about work at the hotel? I have to work on Chol Hamoed, you know he never lets me take off…”
My job was our lifeline — and my worst nightmare. It paid decently, which was the only reason why I kept at it, but the hours were awful — – US time zone, no vacations, ever — and my boss a real slave driver.
“I’m sure they have Wi-Fi there, no?” Dovi said.
I shook my head. “That’s not the problem. I’m worried about where I’ll work. We’ll be sharing a room with the kids, and I work till midnight or later—”
“We’ll figure it out,” Dovi said, reassuringly. “Maybe the hotel has a conference room that you can use? This is a luxury program, they’re gonna want to make us happy.”
A luxury program, right. So I would be the only woman there working my brains out every evening, just to cover our rent. Why should they accommodate me? They’d probably never even heard of a woman having to work Chol Hamoed evenings.
Dovi sounded so enthusiastic, I almost felt bad to burst his balloon. But if he thought we were going to be getting a break…
“Dovi,” I said, hating the bitterness in my tone but not feeling able to help myself, “we’re not going to be on vacation, you know that. We’ll be entertaining the kids and running after them the whole time, and they’ll be totally off schedule…”
“Hey, I’m just thinking about the desserts,” he said, and I had to laugh. But I still had a pit in my stomach every time I thought about this luxury vacation that I couldn’t imagine would be a vacation at all.
Packing up the family wasn’t easy, but on the plus side, I wasn’t making Yom Tov, so at least I didn’t have the menu planning or cooking on my head. I did wonder wryly if anyone would realize that we were decidedly not hotel people. I mean, I had a grand total of one nice Yom Tov outfit that currently fit — sheva brachos outfits were a thing of the past, baruch Hashem — plus a handful of comfortable tops that I generally wore with a velvet maxi skirt. That didn’t seem like hotel attire. But we couldn’t afford new clothing, so I packed what I had and figured we’d make do.
I was still working long, late evenings, and the kids had no gan half the time these days, so packing had to be squeezed in between everything else — including hosting my parents-in-law when they arrived. Not full-blown hosting — we didn’t have a smidgen of extra sleeping space — but they were sleeping in the next-door apartment and coming over for all the meals, staying afterward to schmooze with Dovi and spend time with the kids.
“Ruti, you work so hard, come sit down for a few minutes,” my mother-in-law said from the couch after lunch one day.
I wanted to scream. Didn’t she realize I wished I could just sit down for a minute?
I mumbled something about laundry, packing, work, cleaning up.
“No problem, I guess we’ll have plenty of time to catch up once we get to the hotel,” mother in law said, patting my arm.
I wished she had offered to help out instead. But she just went on about what a break it was going to be, such an amazing vacation…
You wish, I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t bother; it would just upset her.
I told Dovi, though.
“Your mother seems to think I’ll be sitting around doing nothing at the hotel. I hope she won’t be too disillusioned…”
He was still hopeful.
“You never know, it might be easier than you think. Maybe the kids will be so busy with the program that you will get to relax?”
I sighed. I didn’t want to burst his bubble.
“Whatever. Let’s wait and see,” I mumbled.
I wanted to be optimistic and positive, I just… couldn’t see it being so simple.
I wish I could say that I was wrong.
But of course, things weren’t so simple.
We arrived Erev Yom Tov, and Dovi and I herded the kids into our suite — really just two adjoining bedrooms without much extra space, especially once we brought in our five suitcases, double stroller, diaper bag, and two huge bags of the-stuff-that-didn’t-fit, plus the food-for-the-trip bag. (Who takes a trip without one of those?)
Chaim and Nechama immediately began jumping on the beds — the crisp white sheets didn’t have a chance — Leeba needed changing, the baby was screaming for a feeding, and our stuff was absolutely everywhere. We’d only been here five minutes and I was totally overwhelmed.
“Where do we start?” I asked Dovi helplessly.
In reply, he took Leeba, and I took his cue and went to take care of the baby. When Yisrael was a little calmer, I tried to get the suitcases organized: the kids’ clothing in their room, ours in the closet, all the baby’s stuff in one corner.
Dovi had just started unpacking the bags when there was a knock on the door. We looked at each other.
“My mother?” Dovi half-asked, half-stated, and he went to answer.
I caught the words buffet and coming.
The fun was beginning. Okay, a buffet lunch would be nice, when was the last time I’d eaten?
But then I realized that the baby was finally dropping off to sleep, and if we wanted to keep him in any semblance of routine, one of us was going to have to stay upstairs and take care of him. Plus, what exactly were we supposed to do with Leeba during the seudah tonight? It would be way past her bedtime; she’d be seriously cranky. I’d have to get her to go for a nap, too.
Eventually, we decided that Dovi would take the older two kids down to the buffet — “Don’t give them too much junk, okay? Try for something healthy,” I begged him — and I stayed upstairs, stomach rumbling in protest, with the younger two. At least I’d get some unpacking done.
Just when both of them were finally, finally, sleeping, Dovi reappeared, balancing a huge plate of gourmet goodies. Yum.
“Wow, thanks so much!” I said, looking over his shoulder. “Where are Chaim and Nechama, downstairs?”
“Yeah, my mother’s watching them. She insisted that I bring you a plate, isn’t that sweet?” He was looking at me a little anxiously. I knew he wanted me to be happy, to enjoy it; he was caught between his parents and his wife. I wanted to enjoy it too; it was just… not so simple. “It’s insane downstairs, the amount of food they have. There must be at least ten different kinds of meat, can you imagine? This buffet alone is probably more than we’d spend on an entire Yom Tov.” He shook his head.
“The food does look amazing, wow,” I told him.
I tried to push away the thought of my kids stuffing themselves silly with chocolate eclairs. My mother-in-law wasn’t the type to insist they eat something real, and I couldn’t imagine them choosing ribeye steak over junk food.
“I guess I’ll go back down. Unless you want to?” Dovi offered. “I could stay up here with the kids if you want to see the spread. It’s worth seeing.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t face battling Chaim and Nechama on a sugar high. “I’ll finish up here, get ready for Yom Tov. When the buffet’s done, I guess we’ll do the kids’ baths and stuff.”
We made it to Yom Tov, even with the kids acting extra hyper (Chaim announced that he’d had four chocolate eclairs). Leeba and Yisrael woke up full of energy and hungry, and while I fed the baby, Dovi went to scavenge in the kitchen for something appropriate for a two-year-old. For all the steaks and sushis, they didn’t seem to have a simple piece of kugel or anything Leeba would eat. We ended up feeding her cereal in our room, and of course, Nechama insisted on having a bowl too, and then complained that she felt sick. The next thing I knew, she was throwing up all over her Shabbos dress. And we hadn’t even lit candles yet.
I dressed her in last year’s dress, wincing. It was short, and I’d brought it as an emergency backup. Then we finally herded everyone down the stairs for cande-lighting.
Dovi disappeared to go to Minchah and Maariv, there was some fancy chazzan leading the tefillos, and he was excited about it. I lit candles and spent the next hour struggling to hold things together, with the kids running wild around the glass-and-marble lobby. Apparently, there was some sort of storyteller program for the kids, but Nechama found it scary and Leeba wouldn’t let go of my skirt, so there went that.
Finally, finally, finally, it was time for the meal. The kids took one look at the elegantly plated salmon with some unidentified vegetables and herbs, and absolutely refused to eat. They were bored, hungry, and tired, and Dovi and I juggled the baby, the toddler, and the bigger kids, trying to get them to eat something, and trying to eat something ourselves.
“I wish they had something normal that we could give the kids,” I whispered to him.
Main course was a little better — Chaim agreed to taste a drumstick, and Nechama discovered that the potatoes weren’t so bad, if we scraped off the herbs — but by the time we were done, I was finished.
“Maybe tomorrow will be better,” Dovi said, but even he sounded weary as we rounded up the kids and put them to sleep.
But the next day was a repeat performance.
The kids were tired and cranky, and we kept having to run up and down from our room to get diapers and changes of clothing. The food was incredibly fancy and not at all kid-friendly; the day camp was a disaster; and I was back to lobby duty, wishing we’d bought more toys, wishing there was somewhere more contained to play with the kids.
They had no friends to play with, which meant that Chaim and Nechama riled each other up and ended up fighting; Leeba tried to tag along and cried when they didn’t let her; and despite my best efforts, the baby was totally off schedule and spent half the night screaming.
“I’m really not handling this,” I told Dovi, when we had a miraculous moment to ourselves. He looked harassed too; neither of us were getting much sleep or relaxation here. Yom Tov at home would’ve been a whole lot calmer.
He grimaced. “Yeah, I guess a luxury hotel with kids isn’t the best mix ever. But still, there’s the food, the singing at the meals, the program…”
“The food is good, right.” When I get a chance to eat anything. “But the singing? I like yours. And the program, I haven’t had a chance to try it out, and I doubt that I’m going to get a chance to go to any of those speakers or shows anytime soon. I mean, we have kids.”
“We’ll figure it out, maybe I’ll watch them sometime, I want you to have a good time,” Dovi said. “And besides, that’s the whole reason why my parents did this. They really wanted us — especially you — to enjoy yourself.”
“But they didn’t get us a gift I could enjoy,” I said. “The kids have no friends or games or structure. They don’t like the food. Our room is miles away from the dining room. There’re all these activities that I can’t attend because I’m busy with the kids, and neither of us can enjoy anything like this…”
“And meanwhile, we have rent to pay and you’ll be working your crazy hours all Chol Hamoed just so we can pay the bills to live,” Dovi finished. He shook his head. “You know my parents just wanted to make us happy,” he said again.
“I know, but—” I said, then stopped when Chaim hit his head on the corner of the desk in the room and started screaming.
If I could tell Ma one thing, it would be: We appreciate that you want to give us a gift, but this Yom Tov isn’t a help or treat for us at all.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 931)
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